YA novel

The Princess Bride

You love the movie, right? The book is even better. Well, most of it is…

I’m currently having a minor internal dilemma, dear readers, that I wanted to run past you. The dilemma revolves around my desire to share William Goldman‘s tremendous fairy tale, The Princess Bride, with my six-year-old daughter, and how exactly I should do that. Like a lot of people from my generation, I discovered The Princess Bride thanks to Rob Reiner’s 1987 film adaptation, an epic adaptation that has endured as one of the most rewatchable, quotable, and downright iconic movies of the past thirty years. While I’m still debating when my daughter will be old enough to see the movie, my primary concern is how and when I’m going to read Goldman’s original book to her.

And the operative word in that sentence is “how.” Because, at the moment, I don’t think I want to read her the entire book. I think I only want to read her the “good parts” of The Princess Bride, a statement that anyone who’s read the original book will find funny, ironic, or, at the very least, very, very “meta.”

Now, as a professed “book person”, the idea of selectively reading passages of a book to my daughter feels like a big cheat and a huge violation of the unspoken bond between author and reader – I hate playing backseat editor – but The Princess Bride is a special case. Let me give you some back story…

Even though I adored The Princess Bride movie the first time I saw it in 1987, it never really landed with me that I should seek out the original book that it was based on until I was in college. After a few weeks of hunting, I came across a tattered paperback copy of Goldman‘s The Princess Bride in a used bookstore and quickly devoured it. (It was originally published in 1973 with the eyebrow-raising tagline “A Hot Fairy Tale.”)

What Happens When the Most Beautiful Girl in the World Marries the Handsomest Prince in the World - And He Turns Out to Be a Son-of-a-Bitch?

This might be my favorite back cover copy of all time.

And the book didn’t disappoint. It’s wonderful. When reading the book, you really get an appreciation for how faithful and spot-on Rob Reiner’s adaptation was. Princess Bride the book is INCREDIBLY similar to Princess Bride the movie, right down to the priest mispronouncing “Mawidge” to the now-legendary “Hello, My Name is Inigo Montoya” showdown (which reaches its climax on page 276 of my paperback). While there are little variations in the details here and there, I can only recall two MAJOR differences that stood out when I first read the book. [read the rest of the post…]

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My daughter has a future date with The Graveyard Book.

As you may have inferred from previous posts, I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman, so it’s not that surprising that my shelf of “Books My Kid Will Read in the Future” has more than a few Gaiman titles sprinkled throughout. But the Gaiman book that I really want my daughter to start with and embrace, once she starts exploring the ever-growing shelf of titles intended for her future self, is The Graveyard Book.

And there are many reasons why any parent would want their child to read The Graveyard Book. It’s a wonderfully-told tale, one of the few books that I’m legitimately evangelical about. (“Every single person who’s read it on my recommendation has thanked me profusely afterwards,” he said with a painfully swollen head.) It’s a multiple award-winning title, receiving both the Newbery and Carnegie Medals (which is kind of a big deal). It’s just a very, very moving book for me – to the point where I don’t even feel up to writing one of my typical 2,000-word rants about it. Smarter people than I have written some really beautiful odes to The Graveyard Book, and I have this sneaking suspicion that I just can’t do it justice, which is probably a safe assumption.

I’ll just let Gaiman explain what the book is about himself:

Doesn’t that sound intriguing? Nobody Owens is this spectacular young boy being raised by ghosts in a graveyard and his maturation and development as a character and as a real, breathing person (amongst dead, non-breathing spirits) really is something to behold. But, if I’m being honest, that’s still not getting to the real heart of the reason why I’m determined to make my child read The Graveyard Book one day.

What’s my reason for pushing The Graveyard Book ? Fair warning: It’s a pretty dumb reason. [read the rest of the post…]

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The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Cover of The Phantom Tollbooth, illustration by Jules Feiffer

I mention this on the site’s “About” page, but, when I first found out that I was going to be a father, the very next day, I went out and bought a copy of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth for my kid – my kid who wasn’t going to be born for another nine months. Why? Because, in many ways, I think it’s the perfect children’s book.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Seuss, Silverstein, and Dahl, but there’s just something about the story and the narrative world that Juster puts together in Phantom Tollbooth that just floors me every time I read it.

For those unfamiliar, The Phantom Tollbooth is the story of Milo, a bored, apathetic kid, who, one day, finds a tollbooth that has mysteriously appeared in his bedroom. With nothing better to do, Milo gets in an old toy car, drives through the tollbooth, and finds himself in The Lands Beyond in the Kingdom of Wisdom, a pastiche of a fairy tale-land built around knowledge, wordplay, and mathematical nonsense. Milo makes friends with a watchdog – a pooch named Tock with a real clock in his center – travels through lands like Dictionopolis and The Island of Conclusions, and eventually quests to the Mountains of Ignorance to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason. (His travels are expertly illustrated by Jules Feiffer.)

The ironic wordplay and absurdism of The Phantom Tollbooth gets a lot of attention, and it should. My almost five-year-old daughter is currently getting  a lot of laughs out of the verbal misunderstandings in books like Peggy Parish’s Amelia Bedelia series, which I’m hoping will act as gateway drugs for one day introducing her to Tollbooth – in terms of fun with language, Tollbooth is like a nuclear bomb compared to Parish’s firecrackers. (If you want a far more insightful – and better written – take on Juster’s way with words, read the great Michael Chabon’s essay on Phantom Tollbooth, which will accompany a new fiftieth anniversary edition of the book that comes out this October.)

However, while the allusions and puns are fast and furious, they’ve never been my absolute favorite part of the text. For me, The Phantom Tollbooth has, first and foremost, always been about Milo, who, I think, is one of the greatest protagonists in all of children’s literature. [read the rest of the post…]

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